I started writing this a while ago, and suspect it will start a few more articles but I will post this now, and let the articles come over time.
I am a Quaker (a member of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain), I identify myself as one, yet I am aware I find the questions that go with being one, hard, not to say that they should not be hard, but more because sometimes you feel you should know the answers. I am often asked ‘What do Quakers Believe?’ and ‘What is a Quaker?’ both of which are particularly hard for me the answer. One of my previous copout answers was along the lines of it being a religion of common sense, but the problem with this is that common sense from one person to the next is quite different a lot like one Quaker to another.
I do believe in God, not as an all seeing man or woman, but I guess as the life force in life, the thing that in unexplainable but also brings great joy into all things. God is love to me, as is good, and light; I could quite happily keep giving it words that bring joy to my heart and soul, but it will still leave an element of mystery, and to be fair I feel this is the way it should be.
I don’t call myself a Christian Quaker, mostly because I do not believe that the bible is the word of God, and because I have trouble believing in the holy trinity, I do believe all things revert to God, but this is not the same thing. I do not follow the teaching of Jesus as it were, however I do in some ways, as I believe that treating people badly will only lead to me being treated badly. I believe in Equality although this is a very loaded term as demonstrated by my friend Jessica in this lecture. I have issues with the Bible too, although I do find it a valuable book for/in my faith it is not the only book I find of value, and also part of me feels that it is a book written by man (in the male sense of the word) and has not kept up with the times. There are other books that I find just as valuable for there teachings about life and friendship including Quaker Faith and Practice (QF&P) and even Winnie the Pooh, I think we determine the stories that give our lives meaning whether they are written down or told to us, are factual or are just fiction.
I believe in order to believe you must be able to question your faith, part of this means not always knowing what path you will be lead to walk on, in your faith. I am regularly surprised by my leadings and the paths I have found myself on, they are not easy, and that is the way it is meant to be. Faith is a hard path to follow, but I find it feels worthwhile to my life. That is not to say that I feel it suits everyone, and also I feel many paths are challenging if you have a ‘faith’ or not, this does not make them any less of an educational value, they are just different. I feel Elizabeth Fry sums up this feeling in the following quote for me, incidentally she was only 18 when she wrote these words.
“I do not know the course I am to run, all is hid in mystery, but I try to do right in everything… Look up to true religion as the very first of blessings, cherish it, nourish and let it flourish and bloom in my heart; it wants taking care of, it is difficult to obtain. I must not despair or grow sceptical if I do not always feel religious. I felt God as it were, and I must seek to find Him again.”
Elizabeth Fry, 1798 (QF&P 4th Ed. 26:40)
Of course asking what Quakers ‘are’ is not helped by the images that people see of Quakers each day, whether it is the man on a Quaker Oats packet or even Quakers in films, as we are often still considered to be puritans or even are regularly confused with the Amish and religions like them. Quakers in Britain may of started in this way, but certainly are not now, I would go as far as saying that one of the reasons I am a Quaker is because as a religion we are very progressive, there is a lot of evidence for this, but probably the thing most people will remember is our stance on same sex marriage. Of course Quakers also appear in the press for a number of other issues, the most prominent of these I suspect is our views on Peace.
I should point out that not all Quakers feel this way, there are more conservative and evangelical Quakers out there in the world sometimes described as programmed Friends/Quakers as apposed to the un-programmed Quakers we have in Britain. I do not attempt to speak for other Quakers but do try to speak the truth for me. I think I am still pondering where this article is going, so i will be posting it now and there will be follow ups.